A Psalm for Inauguration Day

January 20, 2009 | 20 comments
By

72: 1 Give the king thy judgments, O God, and thy righteousness unto the king’s son.

“The king” and “the king’s son” probably apply to the same person; by calling the king “the king’s son,” the psalmist emphasizes his right to rule. Note that this psalm begins with a plea to God to help the king.

2 He shall judge thy people with righteousness, and thy poor with judgment.

Note the references to “thy people” and “thy poor.” These are not the king’s people; they are God’s people. The king’s leadership is simply a stewardship over God’s children. Note also that the poor are of special concern. Finally, note that “judge” means “render judgment for.” In other words, not judge in the sense of “determine if they are guilty or innocent” but judge in the sense of “judge in their favor.”

3 The mountains shall bring peace to the people, and the little hills, by righteousness.

It is “by righteousness” on the part of the king that peace is brought to the land.

4 He shall judge the poor of the people, he shall save the children of the needy, and shall break in pieces the oppressor.

Again, “judge” is “render judgment in favor of.” The point is that the king is to be sure that the needs of the poor/weak are met. This is described as one of his key responsibilities. It isn’t enough to help the poor, but those who oppress them can’t be ignored but must be put down. The idea–the radical idea–is that the way that a king can (and should) make a name for himself is by caring for the poor and taking care of their oppressors.

5 They shall fear thee as long as the sun and moon endure, throughout all generations.
6 He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass: as showers that water the earth.

The king is the “he.” The idea is that, as he judges in righteousness, he will make the land bountiful.

7 In his days shall the righteous flourish; and abundance of peace so long as the moon endureth.

V7, with its echo of v5, implies that the king’s actions of protecting the weak will have an impact far beyond his own day.

8 He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth.

It is fairly amazing that expansion of the king’s kingdom is not by military conquests but rather by caring for the weak.

9 They that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before him; and his enemies shall lick the dust.
10 The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents: the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts.
11 Yea, all kings shall fall down before him: all nations shall serve him.
12 For he shall deliver the needy when he crieth; the poor also, and him that hath no helper.

The “for” has the force of “because,” meaning that the submission of other nations described in v8-11 happens because the king delivers the poor and the needy. Wow! Normally we think of foreign nations being taken over by force (does that sound like God’s plan to you?), but it is easy to imagine foreign nations being wooed by a stable, prosperous society. (I’ve heard it said that the best judge of the health of a nation is how many people try to sneak out or sneak in.) The idea is that if the king takes care of the weak, the country will be prosperous, and other nations will want to submit to the king. What a radical idea!

13 He shall spare the poor and needy, and shall save the souls of the needy.

“Souls” should probably be translated as lives, since it is the king that we are talking about here.

14 He shall redeem their soul from deceit and violence: and precious shall their blood be in his sight.

Second phrase: What is (should be) important to a king? What is precious/valuable in his sight? The term itself is an economic one and thus expects an economic answer. The answer in this psalm is: the poor. I think this is a way of saying that the king sees them as God sees them–in other words, he values the lives of the poor and the weak. In thinking about this: reasonable people might disagree about the most effective way to help children stuck in inner city schools, for example, but I think this psalm makes clear that to be an effective leader and to have a prosperous nation, you are obligated to help them. Not caring about the weak is not an option for a righteous ruler.

15 And he shall live, and to him shall be given of the gold of Sheba: prayer also shall be made for him continually; and daily shall he be praised.
16 There shall be an handful of corn in the earth upon the top of the mountains; the fruit thereof shall shake like Lebanon: and they of the city shall flourish like grass of the earth.
17 His name shall endure for ever: his name shall be continued as long as the sun: and men shall be blessed in him: all nations shall call him blessed.
18 Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, who only doeth wondrous things.
19 And blessed be his glorious name for ever: and let the whole earth be filled with his glory; Amen, and Amen.

Amen, indeed.

Tags: ,

20 Responses to A Psalm for Inauguration Day

  1. Marc Bohn on January 21, 2009 at 1:58 am

    Thanks for this Julie.

  2. Adam Greenwood on January 21, 2009 at 9:41 am

    America has a chief magistrate, not a king. The people are sovereign here.

    Psalms of messianic kingship are wildly out of place as applied to any President. This is appalling.

  3. Ida Tarbell on January 21, 2009 at 10:55 am

    Right on, Adam. What right does Julie have to turn to “the Bible” to look for guidance on moral conduct? The social, cultural, and historical distance between that era and ours is so vast that any comparison at all is out of place–no, appalling. I think you need to send her copies of _The Fountainhead_ and _Atlas Shrugged_ asap.

  4. Adam Greenwood on January 21, 2009 at 11:23 am

    Ayn Rand bless you, m’dear.

  5. Marc Bohn on January 21, 2009 at 12:16 pm

    Hmmm… I’m trying to figure out whether you were being tongue-in-cheek in your first comment Adam.

  6. Julie M. Smith on January 21, 2009 at 12:37 pm

    Adam, I can never tell when you are joking.

    If you were, haha that was funny.

    If you weren’t:

    If and how to appropriate scripture for our own situation is always a delicate matter. Here are some options:

    (1) I suppose one could dismiss this psalm as completely messianic with absolutely no relevance to earthly rulers. Yet even if we did that (and I don’t think we should), we are left with the fact that an earthly ruler would presumably want to try to be as Christlike as possible and therefore should rule as Christ would rule, which would mean . . . looking out for the poor.

    (2) I think you hint in your comment that the rights/responsibilities that belong to the king in this psalm belong to the people in our day. OK. I can work with that. Let’s all re-commit ourselves to taking better care of the poor and making their needs the primary consideration when we vote and act.

    (3) One could also argue that the priorities of the biblical king should be the priorities of any earthly ruler, regardless of political system. In that case, our leaders should prioritize the needs of the poor in their thinking. That’s the direction that I took the post in, although I don’t have any real complaint with where my options (1) and (2) leave us, either. I was careful to say in the post that I think the psalm demands a focus on the poor, but not the advocacy of certain of specific programs to help the poor. The psalm doesn’t specify whether approach X or Y is better for addressing the needs of the poor, it just says that we have to prioritize the needs of the poor.

  7. kevinf on January 21, 2009 at 1:26 pm

    Julie,

    I loved this. Thank you. I think your original insights, as well as your response to Adam’s transgression in your number 6 above, are right on. If the people are sovereign, then those biblical pronouncements are addressed to us. I wonder, though, if Ann Coulter’s take on all of this would be that it’s just another example of the liberal media bias, now shown to exist even in ancient times.

  8. Kent G. Budge on January 21, 2009 at 2:03 pm

    I hope Adam was serious. I would have been.

  9. DavidH on January 21, 2009 at 2:06 pm

    Thanks Julie. I appreciate your insight, and agree with it.

    In Adam’s defense, and in the defense of other Obama skeptics, it was only a few years ago that I felt on the other side of the divide with a president who, at the time, many of my co-religionists thought was God’s instrument for righting wrongs in this world, leading, for example, an inspired defensive invasion of a Muslim country that would open the doors to the spread of the gospel. As nice as of person as GWB is, and as hard as he worked to try to do right (and I believe he did work hard), it bothered me when some of my LDS friends (and some commentators on Christian radio) implied that GWB was a chosen vessel of God to accomplish some great mission–and that questioning or not supporting GWB’s decisions was almost akin to questioning or not supporting God.

    Now that the shoe is on the other foot, I find it difficult not to rejoice in the election of such an extraordinary individual as Obama, and to wonder if he might not be a chosen vessel of God (just being honest here folks). I thrill at his oratory and his writing, and appreciate his manner and decisionmaking style.

    And so, perhaps my coreligionists were right, and perhaps my musings are right; perhaps both GWB and BHO are chosen vessels to accomplish missions. What those missions may be, and what God’s view is of those missions may be, however, to quote BHO, “above my pay grade.”

  10. Julie M. Smith on January 21, 2009 at 2:20 pm

    Whoa!

    If anyone read this as thinking that I think Obama is what the right thought GWB was, that is _absolutely_ not what I intended. (And I didn’t think that of Adam’s original comment, but #9 makes me wonder if I missed something.)

    I actually had planned this post since before the election and had planned on posting it regardless of who won (and I thought there was a reasonable chance that McCain would win). There was absolutely nothing partisan or pro-Obama about this post–it was merely the outworkings of my thinking about what this psalm said a leader should prioritize. Any leader. On either side. Not suggesting that the current leader was special or messianic or anything.

    Yikes.

  11. Frank McIntyre on January 21, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    Admit it Julie, you’re driving around in a car plastered with Obama bumper stickers and shouting out your window at other cars about the importance of free health care and getting out of Iraq.

  12. DavidH on January 21, 2009 at 3:18 pm

    I did not mean to imply that this post was adulatory of Obama. You are correct that it is not.

    However, there is a good amount of adulation throughout the blogosphere and even in the bloggernaccle, and I share in it and to paraphrase Brigham Young, I say “Hallelujah!”

    Nevertheless, I can understand the reaction of someone who becomes uncomfortable with anything that has the slightest hint of adjulation or unspoken comparison of our chief executive with something biblical or messianic.

    Had this been posted the day after GWB’s reelection, I might have misread it as applicable in some biblical or messianic way to GWB, even though that is clearly not what it says or what the intent is.

  13. Mark N. on January 21, 2009 at 5:28 pm

    The people are sovereign here.

    Gary North, a frequent author at lewrockwell.com, makes an interesting case for the idea that the US Constitution is a covenant document, and by making “we the people” the author of the covenant, God has been taken completely out of the picture.

    See CONSPIRACY IN PHILADELPHIA: Origins of the United States Constitution for all the interesting details.

  14. Adam Greenwood on January 21, 2009 at 5:33 pm

    Julie S.

    I can never tell when I’m joking either. #1 or #2 would be my preferred options, insofar as your post is limited to arguing that an OT psalm about the ideal rulers care for the weak and the poor should apply to modern governance.

    The part of your post that gives rise to misconstruction is the last ‘amen’ and the fact that you posted the entire psalm, most of which in my reading has nothing to do with the duties of the sovereign.

    And, at least for me, my natural reading of the psalm is not that the the King’s exaltation and power are extended so widely solely because he everybody thinks he’s a nice guy for helping the poor. The King here is at least extraordinarily charismatic and powerful. His enemies fear him.

    Anyway, based on what you’ve said here, I misread you. My apologies. By the way, I assume you’ve finally jettisoned your libertarian label?

  15. kevinf on January 21, 2009 at 7:48 pm

    Julie, # 11, did you steal my car?

  16. Jim F on January 22, 2009 at 12:11 am

    Can kevinf have some kind of prize for the best response of the year?

  17. Ray on January 22, 2009 at 7:10 am

    kevinf or Thomas Parkin – for pretty much any of their comments (although #14 really is a front-runner, especially if the car was parked at the stake center during Stake PEC when Julie stole it).

  18. Mark N. on January 22, 2009 at 2:32 pm

    Did I end up on the naughty list here at T&S?

  19. Adam Greenwood on January 22, 2009 at 2:40 pm

    Your comments got trapped in the spam filter. I liberated them.

  20. Julie M. Smith on January 22, 2009 at 4:30 pm

    Adam, I didn’t see a charisma angle.

    “By the way, I assume you’ve finally jettisoned your libertarian label?”

    I’m deeply, deeply conflicted and unresolved on a number of political issues these days.